Stray Thoughts and Small Fires

by Tale Swapper

Chapter 1: AMT: The Life and Times of Esmerelda Smith (Part 1)

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It had been meticulously planned. Twilight (unknowingly, but that was fine. This was for family, after all) had provided her with the schedule of Sunset's classes. Luna had agreed to handle her duties for the day, in exchange for "considerations" rendered later. (Celestia was very worried about what those considerations might be. Luna's grin had been vicious.) She'd even dug out her old disguise to sneak into Friendship Castle, and brought enough gemstones to bribe Spike into handing over one of Twilight's information booklets and opening the gate. From there, it only took stepping through the portal.

Sunset would be looked after. Celestia would make sure of it. She would not make the same mistake again.

Granny Smith looked up from her book, listening to the firm knocking at the door. Pulling herself to her feet, Granny moved into the front hall, then glanced up at the bubble glass which occupied the space above the door frame. Granny had never held with fancy "peephole cameras", but she was still waiting for Sunset or Applejack to figure out that the distortions of the old glass reflected near-perfectly the identity of the visitors which stood at the front door. Granny had had it installed specially: in her old line of work, it was always a good idea to know who was waiting on the other side of an unopened door, long before you reached it. Granted, if someone really wanted you dead, it wasn't too difficult, but it was far better to send anyone with an unpleasant message back with a different one.

Don't mess with Granny.

Still, she was rather surprised at what she saw. There was only one woman she knew with tri-colored hair reflecting in the colors of the dawn was Celestia. And she never wore poofy dresses like that. Hell, the woman looked like something out of a-

storybook. Hmm. Well, we knew this was coming.

Granny growled under her breath. Gangsters would be easier. She could shoot gangsters. Family, on the other hand...

Celestia watched the door with a guarded expression. This world had changed much more than Equestria had in the last two centuries. For one, she could have sworn the portal had emerged from a wooden ring, two trees whose branches had interwoven above a shelf of white stone. Twilight's description the technology of this world hadn't quite done it justice; the more Celestia saw, the more she'd seen that Equestria couldn't hold a candle to the technological development of this one.

Four hundred years ago, I would have bet every bit in the treasury that a war would have resulted in ponies triumphant.
Now, if it came to fighting, I think we'd be lucky to emerge at a draw. Magic could do many things, but it was limited by the reserves of the caster and their own bodies; Celestia herself might be able to drop sunfire on an army, but it would leave her exhausted and spent to do so. Better by far to treaty and barter. Diplomacy is far more effective than force of arms.

Drawing herself back to the present, she steadier herself as she heard a bolt turn in the door. The door swung open to reveal a weathered face- at once familiar and strange.

Orange eyes gazed up at her, mud and blood splattered over green hooves. Worn wooden armor, studded with iron rivets was scarred and patched, pierced with griffin-made arrows. Still the young sergeant saluted, gazing up at her commander in chief. For on the battlefield, titles like "princess" meant nothing at all.

Granny Smith spoke. "So. You're Princess Celestia. right?"

Celestia blinked. The slight sarcastic edge she was familiar with, but she'd rarely heard it used at her; only Sunset (one, before her disappearance) and Luna (often, especially concerning cake) had ever dared.

Celestia brought in a breath. "Indeed. I need to speak to you about-"

Granny cut her off. "Lady, Ah think you need to start over." She raised an eyebrow. "Ah know why you're here- or at least, Ah have a reasonable suspicion. And you don't need anything."

Celestia flinched. For a moment, she felt indignant outrage flood through her- until she realized how she must look. A strange woman shows up at her door, demands to talk to her. No introductions, no manners. Thinking back over her interactions over the past few days, she shuddered internally. Family always did bring out the worst in me. I seem to be falling back into bad habits.

Gathering herself, Celestia started over. "I do need something, Ms. Smith. But I know I cannot demand it." Looking at Granny, she allowed a note of contrition to enter her voice. "May I come in, Ms. Smith? I'd like to speak to- no, with you, for a while. About Sunset."

Granny humphed. "And if I say no?"

Celestia drew up short. "I- what?"

"I can guess why you're here." Granny snorted. "Ah got a message from Ms. Sparkle a few weeks back, talkin' about how you'd been pokin' around her lab, makin' noises about comin' here. Principal Celestia- mah friend- let me know when you traded her some coins for a phone call and some cash earlier today." She raised an eyebrow. "You came here to look into how Sunset's doin', see how she is. Seems a little late for that, ya know."

Celestia gulped as Granny continued. "Sunset told us about what happened, why she left your world. She messed up, I know- but you had plenty of time after that whole shebang with the crown to take her back. You didn't." She shook her head. "Ah hear you run a fine country on the other side of the portal. Seems like your family needs some work, though."

Celestia's mouth fumbled for a moment, then closed. She pulled in a deep breath, then sighed. "I've always had issues with my personal relationships, Ms. Smith. More so then you know." Softly, she continued. "I've failed those close to me many times. It comes from being used to dealing with people at a distance."

"Which is why you haven't gone to talk to Sunset yourself." Granny studied Celestia for a moment, then shook her head. "You shoulda brought her home, yah know. When you found out how far she'd fallen. It's what family does." Turning, she swung the door open a little wider. "Still, you're here now- and I do wanna talk. But-" she said, turning her glare on Celestia. "You ain't gonna chat with me then leave. If you come in, you're here until Sunset gets home, understand?"

Celestia hesitated at the threshold. "What- I mean-"

"Sunset's scared and torn, woman. I can't tell why, but whenever she talks about you, it's like she's angry and sorry, apologetic and defiant. She can't make up her mind about you, and she ain't willing to take the first step." Granny huffed. "So. If you want answers, you haveta be the one to talk to her. The fact that you haven't tells me a lot, but that ends today. If you come in, that is." She turned, face stoic and lined. "So, what's it going to be?"

Celestia hesitated. For a few moments, she stared inside her soul, until another memory surfaced.

Staring at the retreating form of her sister, Celestia felt a sudden urge to follow her. Luna had brushed off her normal greeting, grumbling below her breath. Why was her sister so upset? So she'd had a slow night in court; Celestia didn't get why that would cause her sister such distress...

Brushing it off, Celestia turned and continued down the passage. If Luna was really upset, she'd hear about it later. After all, it wasn't as though she wouldn't see her soon...

Celestia blinked back the memory, regret heavy in her mind. Looking down, she squared her shoulders, and stepped across the threshold.

Author's Notes:

Granny takes no shit. Not when it comes to family, anyway.

I've always imagined that Celestia learned her lessons on how to rule and behave from nobleponies of the Platinum family; distance, grace, and composure work well for dealing with subjects. However, those sort of interactions fail miserably when dealing with peers and family; it makes it hard to discus the little things that bother you without it devolving with someone who acts like a Queen all the time. Celestia can talk with ponies at their level, but when stressed or confused falls back on the regal ruler routine; which can backfire horribly. Both Sunset and Luna were victims of this.

This will be the first of a five part story; we'll get a little of Sunset's background, but this story is really about Granny. I've got a lot of ideas, and I thought this interaction would be a good way to frame who Esmerelda Smith was, and how she came to be the matriarch of the Apple family.

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